Why Phil Bates might be Seahawks’ next breakout receiving star
Seahawks’ Phil Bates has the size and hands to catch the ball, but now the guy once best known for a fight in training camp could be this season’s Jermaine Kearse?
Seattle Times staff reporter
Seahawks @ Broncos, exhibition, 6 p.m., Ch. 13
Receiver Chris Matthews got as much work Tuesday as any time during training camp, and he took advantage at times, including a touchdown pass from Russell Wilson during one drill. The size of the 6-5, 218-pound Matthews is definitely intriguing, and was a big reason the team signed him after he played the last two years in the Canadian Football League.
You may want to get to know the name of Caylin Hauptmann. The second-year player from Florida International continues to run as the starter at left guard with James Carpenter out with a calf injury. Carpenter was back Tuesday in a limited capacity, and it appears he’ll be back to full-go soon. But Hautpmann has shown in Carpenter’s absence that he’s a capable backup, and right now he’s looking like a lock to make the 53-man roster. He seems to have a bit of a nasty streak, and being in his second season with the team (he was picked up last September after being waived by Cleveland) seems a lot more comfortable.
There were lots of catches by the tight ends, especially Luke Willson and Cooper Helfet, but also RaShaun Allen. Morrell Presley also continues to get a lot of work. And for now, it appears the Seahawks are comfortable with what they have as the depth at that spot behind starter Zach Miller. Willson seems primed to make more of an impact this season, and Helfet, a practice-squad guy a year ago, seems to catch everything thrown his way.
Linebacker K.J. Wright had two interceptions — one against Terrelle Pryor and one against Russell Wilson. Wright is Seattle’s best linebacker in coverage, and he played a big role in limiting Saints tight end Jimmy Graham in two games last season. He’s had a number of interceptions in the various practices this offseason.
Wide receiver Paul Richardson pulled down a couple more impressive catches — and he also had two drops in a row. Richardson practiced without limitations for the first time in a few days, but it’s important to remember that Richardson is a rookie and therefore still raw.
Bob Condotta, Jayson Jenks
RENTON — Phil Bates didn’t play for the Seahawks last year, spending the season on the practice squad. Yet even that designation yields a certain amount of notoriety when your team just won the Super Bowl.
So maybe the man approaching Bates’ table as he dined with his sister at a Florida restaurant this summer simply wanted to say hi to a guy who owns one of the most coveted rings in sports.
Instead, the man stopped and sized Bates up.
“Hey, aren’t you that guy that got in that fight?’’ he asked.
The fight in question came during minicamp in June, when Bates tussled with teammate Richard Sherman during an especially intense Seahawks practice.
The incident was quickly buried by the combatants as the kind of thing that happens in football. Bates and Sherman, in fact, are fast friends off the field.
“Just me and Sherm competing, as always,’’ Bates says of the incident.
But coming as it did in the downtime of the NFL calendar — and that it involved Sherman — footage and pictures of the fight exploded on social media and elsewhere.
Bates recalls picking up his phone after practice, finding a “forever long’’ list of messages and wondering if something bad had happened.
“It was not the publicity I wanted,’’ the good-natured Bates said with a smile.
As the Seahawks begin exhibition games Thursday at Denver, Bates has a chance to make a different sort of name for himself — with his play on the field.
Through the first 10 days of training camp, the third-year receiver from Ohio University has ranked as one of the team’s breakout players and suddenly a legitimate threat to make the final 53-man roster.
“He has really been productive,’’ said coach Pete Carroll earlier in camp. “He’s been active. He’s made a bunch of big plays.’’
And as Carroll said, it’s the culmination of a several-year process for Bates in his switch from college quarterback to NFL receiver.
Bates played quarterback his first three years of college before a shoulder injury helped precipitate a move to receiver his final two seasons at Ohio.
Bates caught just 15 passes his final season at Ohio in 2011, though, and wasn’t high on the radar of many teams. In fact, he says he had to call agents to find one to represent him. And after going undrafted the Seahawks were the only team to make an offer, or even give him a call.
“Yeah, I have a pretty interesting story,’’ he says with a smile.
Seattle, which had him in for a workout before the draft, was intrigued by Bates’ athleticism and size. The 6-foot-1 Bates weighs 220 pounds — more than any other Seahawks receiver.
Last year, the Seahawks even briefly tried him at fullback.
Now he’s a receiver only, having spent the past two seasons on the practice squad, not only mastering the intricacies of the position but also remaking his physique.
“He has really shaped and sculpted his body,’’ Carroll said. “He looks like a receiver. He has all the movements now. And he’s a very tough competitor, too. So we love what he’s doing.’’
Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson recently compared Bates’ emergence this year to that of Jermaine Kearse a season ago.
“He’s got great speed, great hands,’’ Wilson said. “He’s got paws. I mean, I’ve got huge hands. He’s got really big hands as well, and he just catches the ball extremely well.’’
Bates seemed like something of a longshot to make the team when camp began, particularly considering Seattle drafted Paul Richardson and Kevin Norwood in the first four rounds to bolster its receiving corps.
But Norwood has been out since early in camp with a foot injury that will sideline him indefinitely, potentially opening up another roster spot.
With Norwood injured, Ricardo Lockette, Bryan Walters — who each were on the 53-man roster for the Super Bowl — and Bates now loom as finalists for the last one or two receiving positions.
Bates, though, says he’s trying not to sweat the roster mechanics, knowing he has already traveled a pretty unlikely road to get to this point.
“You go crazy,’’ Bates said of why he doesn’t focus on how the roster might play out. “I just think about doing my job, and all those other variables, just staying away from those and just enjoying this.’’